September 7, 2022

1961. Interview with Secretary of State Dean Rusk

Secretary Rusk Discusses Foreign Policy

This interview with Secretary of State Dean Rusk aired on the CBS program "At the Source" on June 29, 1961. The text (including the footnotes) is adapted from a transcript printed in the Department of State Bulletin, Vol. XLV, No. 1149, pp. 145-151 on July 24, 1961, and has been altered slightly to reflect the audio:

Secretary Rusk Interviewed on "At the Source" Program

Following is the transcript of an interview of Secretary Rusk on a Columbia Broadcasting System TV program, "At the Source," on June 29.

ANNOUNCER: It is at this desk that some of the major decisions of our time are made. The CBS Television Network takes you to the office of the Secretary of State in Washington, D.C. We are "At the Source"—the physical setting in which Dean Rusk, the Secretary of State, thinks and works and acts on important questions of foreign policy.

In an informal and spontaneous discussion recorded earlier today, Secretary Rusk meets with chief CBS News Washington correspondent Howard K. Smith and CBS News correspondents Bill Downs and Paul Niven. Now let us join their discussion "At the Source." Here is Howard K. Smith.

SMITH: Mr. Secretary, you've had a long and varied experience as a subordinate in the State Department, and now that you have had 5 months as the head of the State Department, have you learned anything you didn't know then?

SECRETARY RUSK: Well, when I was one of 10 Assistant Secretaries back 10 years ago, I thought then that life was fairly complicated and busy. It's no less so today. I think the thing that I did not appreciate 10 years ago is that the Secretary almost never has the fun of dealing with a simple question; those are handled by his colleagues down the line. Most of the questions which come to the Secretary's desk and go from there to the President these days, given the pace and complexity of our relations with the rest of the world, are, shall I say, most interesting and usually complicated and difficult.

DOWNS: Well, Mr. Secretary, we who wander around this big building, which is your headquarters here, have sort of a saying that if you are pessimistic 100 percent of the time, why, 99 percent of the time you're right. But there must be another side of the coin. Hasn't something ridiculous happened to you since you've been in—something funny?

SECRETARY RUSK: Oh, I think there are a number of amusing things which happen along the way. It might be a little embarrassing to spell them out here, but there are always unearned dividends in this job—some perfectly ridiculous event occurring somewhere that no one could have predicted, with not grave consequences, but which adds to the gaiety and enlightenment of the world scene. No, there is fun in this job, too.

West's Commitment in Berlin

NIVEN: I suppose the least funny aspect of life today for you is Berlin, Mr. Secretary. It's now 2½ years since Khrushchev said he was going to sign a peace treaty with East Germany. Have our contingency planners in that time made a tentative decision as to where we draw the line? Do we let him sign his peace treaty with East Germany and wait for the East Germans to stop our trucks, or do we resist the peace treaty itself?

SECRETARY RUSK: Mr. Niven, the President yesterday in his press conference made a very important statement on this question,1 and I don't suppose it would be well for high officials to make fresh statements on almost a daily basis on such a serious question.

But let me say this in direct answer to your particular question: The essence of our commitment there—of our rights—and the basis for our concern about the future in West Berlin is the right of the three powers—the United States, United Kingdom, and France—in West Berlin—our obligations and responsibilities to the people in West Berlin, and the commitment of the West to the security and freedom of West Berlin. Now there are a great many questions which have been discussed and talked about—formulae, proposals, counterproposals—but this is the essence of the matter: We are there by right, not by sufferance. We have obligations to ourselves and to the people of West Berlin, and we do not accept the notion that those rights can be terminated or that the security of the people of that city can be endangered by the unilateral action taken by someone else.

SMITH: Mr. Secretary, a thing that bothers me—and I think bothers a great many people—is the thought that we may be prepared to be firm against an all-out, all-at-once warlike threat in Berlin. But the possibility exists that the Russians won't give us such a challenge. Instead they will try to shave away our rights in installments so small that none will seem worth fighting about.

Are we prepared to face the possibility that they will attempt first to grant East German puppet police the right to police our traffic, then delay the traffic, then harass the traffic? Are we prepared to meet that threat?

SECRETARY RUSK: Well, this is one of the problems which will have to be thought about, considered, planned for in our discussions within our own Government and with other governments. In a situation of this sort the Soviets would probably try to create an ambiguous situation because these are more difficult to handle and deal with and to explain publicly.

DOWNS: What do you mean, sir?

SECRETARY RUSK: Along the lines of Mr. Smith's comments, that is, to leave it uncertain, to let whatever action occurs occur with hesitancy or with concealment or with indirectness, because the underlying issues are simple and direct and these must be understood by our own people and by peoples in other countries and it is important to keep the ambiguities cleared away so that we know exactly what the issues are.

DOWNS: Well, if we agree that freedom is not negotiable in Berlin, what is?

SECRETARY RUSK: Well, since 1946 the Western Powers have made a series of proposals for a permanent settlement in Germany and in Berlin. Now these have taken a variety of forms over the years. Most of them have had to do with the self-determination of the peoples concerned.

This is an instinctive American reaction to the way in which you go about settling questions of this sort—ask the people themselves what solution they themselves want. And in the long turn of history this also may be the wise course in looking for a permanent solution because history is full of situations where the absence of self-determination has led to ambitions, appetites, revanchist ideas which in turn disturb the peace.

NIVEN: Do you expect this crisis to unfold according to any kind of a timetable, Mr. Secretary?

SECRETARY RUSK: The timetable, of course, depends upon all parties here. Mr. Khrushchev has indicated that he expects to take certain action by the end of the year. That does not mean that he might not raise one or another part of this question before then. That also does not mean that everyone else would wait until the end of the year to address themselves to it. So I think that it is safe at this time to say, Mr. Niven, that the Berlin question is going to be with us as an active question on our agenda both before the Government and the American people for the next several months anyhow.

Discussions Among Governments

NIVEN: Is there a hint there that we may try to beat him at his own game by proposing negotiations?

SECRETARY RUSK: Well, I think there is no question that there will be discussions among governments about Berlin, including discussions with the Soviet Union. In the first instance, for example, we will be replying to Mr. Khrushchev's aide mémoire2 on the subject. When you raise the question of negotiation, this to some people implies a particular form or forum or way of talking. What I am saying is that undoubtedly this question is going to be discussed—but under what circumstances and in what way it will be reached—in the course of discussions among governments now going on.

SMITH: Mr. Secretary, Winston Churchill once said that, if the Allies had made it perfectly clear to the Germans before either world war that they would fight and just where they would draw the line, there wouldn't have been either world war. Would it not, in view of that, be an act of wisdom to let the Russians know exactly what we would not permit—for example, if we would not permit their East German police to take over the stamping of our traffic papers into and out of Berlin?

SECRETARY RUSK: The issue mentioned by Mr. Churchill is a central one in relations between a dictatorship, or an authoritarian form of government, and the democracies, because it is relatively easy for a highly centralized regime to underestimate the political processes which go on in a democratic society.

We debate vigorously among ourselves; we differ with each other. We have all sorts of internal quarrels as we sort out our political arrangements on a democratic basis, and, indeed, in our discussions with our friends abroad there is considerable public discussion of different points of view on important questions among thriving democracies.

Now, there is a temptation on the part of an authoritarian ruler to think that this is a sign of weakness and lack of unity. Indeed, a miscalculation on this point, an estimate that democracies would not do what in fact they would do, is a source of danger. So there will be a number of points of clarification of purpose and procedure and issue, aimed at the avoidance of this kind of miscalculation.

SMITH: These will be made public, will they?

SECRETARY RUSK: Public, and I presume in the course of intergovernmental discussions, yes.

Question of German Reunification

DOWNS: Well, Mr. Secretary, Walter Lippmann this morning said that it is the unstated policy of Britain and France to preserve the division of Germany as it now is. We, at the same time, are calling for reunification of Germany. Is that not a dangerous division of policy or opinion on the part—between us and our allies?

SECRETARY RUSK: The Western proposals on Germany and Berlin over the years have been on the basis of agreement. And the record there is filled with proposals to give the Germans a chance to decide on such questions as unification.

Now, when a new approach or a new move is made, such as was made in the Russian aide mémoire that was delivered to us at Vienna, you can expect all the governments directly involved to review the entire history of the situation, consult with each other, and decide how to move from here.

I myself am confident that there will be unity and agreement among the governments directly concerned and that disunity is not going to be the problem.

DOWNS: Someone said that the art of diplomacy is to avoid dead ends. Do you think that both sides have avoided a dead end at this stage of the game in Berlin?

SECRETARY RUSK: Well, I think it is important not to come to the dead end but to explore every possibility of working out a tolerable peace that is consistent with the vital interests of our own country.

NIVEN: Some people have interpreted Mr. Khrushchev's speech yesterday as an indication that he is in a diplomatic hole that he got himself into and that he is almost appealing for help from the West in getting out of it—that this was a much more moderate speech than some of its predecessors. Do you agree, sir?

SECRETARY RUSK: Well, appraising a particular speech is sometimes a little hazardous. Of course we read a speech of that sort with considerable care and interest, but in view of the record of the last several weeks I think one would not wish to leap to conclusions too quickly on the basis of a single speech. After all, those of us who have to make speeches from time to time know how easy it is to say things a little differently and without necessarily implying too much by it. But this will be given very careful study, of course.

Nuclear Testing and Disarmament

SMITH: Mr. Secretary, Berlin is topic A in the world. Can we talk to you about topic B—nuclear testing and disarmament?

Have you any theories as to why the Russians, who seemed to be interested in reaching a treaty to ban nuclear tests with us for several years, suddenly this year seem to have lost interest in it?

SECRETARY RUSK: There may be several reasons which move them in that direction.

I think Mr. Khrushchev, in his aide mémoire on the subject,3 and in some of the things that have been said in speeches and other places, made it quite clear as to what one of the reasons is. They have made, it seems to me, a far-reaching and fundamental decision about their attitude toward international organizations and international arrangements on such things as inspection and control. Their experiences in the Congo and their estimate of the effect of the actions taken by the United Nations in the Congo upon their policies in that country led them to say that "we are not going to subject the interests of the Soviet Union to decisions made by somebody else." 

Now, this is essentially the origin of the so-called "troika" formula—that in these matters there will be a Communist, a capitalist, a neutral, and that each one of them would have a veto on action taken.

Well, now, obviously, this would lead—if this is the principle on which the inspection machinery is organized and operated—obviously this would lead to self-inspection or to an ability to bar effective inspection and control and that would be unacceptable for the rest. I think it's also important to bear in mind that for the Soviet Union secrecy is a very great strategic advantage, as they see it. Their communications on the subject of disarmament, nuclear test control, suggest that they look upon international inspection and control as a form of espionage that effective control discloses secrets within the Soviet Union.

Well, this is for them a serious step. But for the rest of us it is a vital step, because we find it difficult to see how you can proceed down the path toward disarmament unless you have reasonable assurances that none of us will be, as Aristide Briand once put it, dupes or victims in this business.

So we have been discouraged, although not surprised. We have been discouraged by the attitude of the Soviet Government in the recent nuclear test discussions in Geneva. We had hoped that we could get that agreement, not because this represents a major step in disarmament but because it was a most significant first step and it would have established the principle of inspection and control and given us some experience in the actual operation of a system of inspection and control. This would then open the way for further steps in the disarmament that we all would like to accomplish, if we can find a way to do it consistent with our security.

Question of Resuming Testing

DOWNS: Well, Mr. Secretary, right now there are calls on Capitol Hill and elsewhere in the Government to resume testing. From the diplomatic viewpoint, do you think after a 3-year moratorium that the damage it would do to our prestige and power among the neutrals, whom we have been trying to woo the most, is worth the military gains that we would get out of resuming testing?

SECRETARY RUSK: Well, this is a very serious question which must, of course, preoccupy the mind of President Kennedy. And he commented on it yesterday.4

I think that when we balance up these matters we will find that, in the first place, the world does understand that there is on the table at Geneva a reasonable, workable treaty5 submitted with bona fides looking toward the suspension of tests and the establishment of a genuine test-ban system. Now, I don't think we should assume that, because people in other parts of the world as well as our own people would hope that progress can be made on these matters, that they would not fail to understand that the rest of the world has a vital interest in the steps that the United States may have to take in the protection of its own elementary security.

NIVEN: Mr. Secretary—

SECRETARY RUSK: So this is a matter for the future and has to be; this is something that the President will have to decide in the weeks and months ahead.

NIVEN: Mr. Walter Lippmann has raised the possibility that Mr. Khrushchev may want tests resumed because Russian scientists need them more than we do at this point. Is there any feeling in our Government that that may be true?

SECRETARY RUSK: That is the kind of question which will have to be examined, but I think that it would not be useful for me to comment upon where the advantages might lie in the circumstances. This is something that has to be judged on a highly technical basis involving many classified elements, and I think any observation on my part would be beside the point.

U.S. Policy Toward Cuba

SMITH: Can we turn to Latin America? I would like to ask you what exactly is our policy towards Cuba?

One of your spokesmen has said, ". . . Communism in this hemisphere is not negotiable." Then, what do we do about Castro?

SECRETARY RUSK: Well, there are two main things that it seems to me must be done and which are in process.

One is that we must do everything that we can to insure that Cuba is not, itself, exploited as a base for the further penetration of forces and elements from outside the hemisphere into other countries of this hemisphere; that is, any attempt to use Cuba as a base for agents or arms or whatever it is into other countries will require the immediate and energetic attention of all the governments and countries concerned.

I think, secondly, that the members of the Organization of American States do more than ever now recognize that this is something more than a bilateral question between Cuba and the United States, that it is in fact a problem for the hemisphere, that it is a potential disturbance to the peace of the hemisphere, and that the OAS, itself, should give it very serious thought and attention. We are developing our diplomacy and our discussions with other governments along both these lines.

Sino-Soviet Penetration

SMITH: Well, this penetration is, however, going on, is it not? I understand that the other day—one day this week in Montevideo—five tons of Mao Tse-tung's writings on guerrilla warfare were confiscated, and it's thought that they came via Cuban channels to Montevideo.

SECRETARY RUSK: I think we must recognize in this country that the Sino-Soviet bloc has made a very serious decision that it will try to press its opportunities beyond our alliances—jumping over the alliances, going around the alliances—in order to make as much headway as possible in the so-called underdeveloped parts of the world.

Mr. Khrushchev has indicated that—his great interest into these parts of the world include Latin America—in the underdeveloped countries; since 1954 they have been putting more and more resources into economic and cultural relations, and they have been building up their propaganda very rapidly.

Now, we believe that they will make an effort, a serious effort, in Latin America with all the propaganda and other resources at their disposal. We feel that the primary protection against this kind of attempted penetration is the mobilization of the energies and interests and the loyalties of the people of Latin America in their own economic and social development, because, if the peoples of this hemisphere show that they are on the move, along the lines of President Kennedy's Alliance for Progress,6 if they are ready themselves to take their own futures in their own hands and can move to build up their own education, their health, their productivity, that this is the way that societies become impervious to this sort of penetration. Now there are other things in the propaganda field, in the cultural relations, in broadcasting, many things which we can do more strongly than we are now doing. These require funds, and funds are not always easy to come by.

DOWNS: Well, Mr. Secretary, without getting into sort of washing dirty linen on the CIA and the rest of it, have you found that the Central Intelligence Agency's involvement in the Cuban fiasco gave us a black eye pretty well all over the world? Have you found that it dictates policy any place else other than it did in Cuba?

SECRETARY RUSK: I don't think that I want to comment about a specific agency and a specific episode. I am reminded of a statement made earlier that as far as that particular event was concerned, there was something in it for everybody. (Laughter.)

But, no, I think that policy of the present administration in our foreign policy is made by the President and the Secretary of State and his key advisers.

DOWNS: Well, let me ask you another one, and let me quote you—I've got it written down here, "Rusk's law."

There has been some discussion about whether or not there are two State Departments, one in the White House and one over here in this building and in your office, and you wrote back in Foreign Affairs a year ago, "No department or agency can be coordinated by a parallel department or agency." In other words, if you have got two agencies working on the same problem, you never get together. Do you think that's happening?

SECRETARY RUSK: Oh, I'm sorry that I have to suggest that is a misquotation. That was a law to which I was objecting in this article. That is, I do not myself take the view that it should be considered infra dig to defer to a companion agency.

Now, that coordination is something which ought to be worked out by the assignment of central responsibilities to identifiable individuals and departments who, in turn, have the responsibility for coordination with their neighbors. And we do need to work toward a simplification of the arrangements by which we come to our decisions, and I think the present administration has been doing that.

Handling of Latin American Affairs

DOWNS: Then you find no objection to the Presidential task force under Adolf Berle, or any conflict with the new Assistant Secretary of State, Mr. Woodward?

SECRETARY RUSK: When the new administration took responsibility on January 20, there were a great many urgent jobs that had to be done quickly. For example, the book which my colleagues in the Department kindly prepared for me, entitled "Major Issues Facing the New Administration," was a looseleaf book some 3 inches thick. Now, there were several things in the Latin American field which needed to be done promptly. For example, the program under the so-called Bogotá program had to be presented to Congress, and quickly, to get the program moving. This could not have been done in the time available through the normal machinery of government; so that task force took that on. The Brazilian financing was a part of it. Some of the steps we have taken in Bolivia was a part of it. So that task force, during this period of getting started, has done some extraordinarily helpful and effective things.

Now, as we settle in and we get our new arrangements set, the normal procedures will more and more, of course, take over.

NIVEN: But I think you might agree, sir, that Secretary Dulles was perpetually vigilant to see that there was no great influence on President Eisenhower in the foreign policy field from anybody except him, whether it be from Dr. Milton Eisenhower or Harold Stassen or anyone. Is this something every Secretary has to watch out for?

SECRETARY RUSK: Well, how these procedures work is, of course, a matter of interest to any Secretary and to any President. But let me just comment that Washington, to me, is a city which is filled with quiet diplomacy but a good deal of local gossip.

Actually, the President is in full charge of his office and of foreign policy, and he has used the Department of State and the other departments as he needs them to help him in this job. There is close and friendly contact between his personal staff and the departments concerned.

After all, with the abolition of the old Operations Coordinating Board, it would be expected that certain members of his personal staff and the staff of the National Security Council would be more active in the liaison field than before. But let me assure you that this is not a matter which has struck into the actual operations of government in the way that some of the reports would suggest.

SMITH: Mr. Rusk, are you in favor of Secretaries of State traveling a great deal? (Laughter.) I understand you have traveled more than Mr. Dulles in an equal period of time.

SECRETARY RUSK: Well, there were three slated meetings of foreign secretaries that were facing me when I first took office, and I felt that I ought to go to those meetings and get acquainted with my colleagues from other countries. Then there was one unplanned meeting at Geneva over Laos.

I still think that the principal post, the habitual post, of the Secretary of State ought to be at his desk in Washington. I have discussed with some of my colleagues among the foreign ministers the problem of organizing a sort of trade union of foreign ministers to create tolerable working conditions for ourselves.

SMITH: Excuse me, sir. I'm afraid that's all the time we have.

On that thought, I would like to thank you very much, indeed. We all have a national, nonpartisan interest in wishing you the very best of luck.

SECRETARY RUSK: Thank you very much, Mr. Smith.


For text, see BULLETIN of July 17, 1961, p. 107.

An aide mémoire was handed to President Kennedy by Premier Khrushchev during their meeting at Vienna June 2-4.

3 For texts of a Soviet aide mémoire of June 4 and a U.S. note of June 17 in reply, see BULLETIN of July 3, 1961, p. 18.

4 Ibid.July 17, 1961, p. 106.

5 For text, see ibid.June 5, 1961, p. 870.

6 For texts of an address and a message to Congress by President Kennedy, see ibid.Apr. 3, 1961, p. 471.